Peer Relationships

Parenting Support: Peer RelationshipsTop of Page

Encourage Healthy and Positive Relationships

It is important to encourage friendships among pre-teens.  We all want our children to be with persons who will have a positive influence, and stay away from persons who will encourage or engage in harmful, destructive, immoral, or illegal activities.

Parents can support positive peer relationships by giving their pre-teenagers their love, time, boundaries, and encouragement to think for themselves.

Specifically, parents can show support by:

·         Having a positive relationship with your pre-teen.  When parent-pre-teen interactions are characterized by warmth, kindness, consistency, respect, and love, the relationship will flourish, as will the pre-teen's self-esteem, mental health, spirituality, and social skills.

·         Being genuinely interested in your pre-teen's activities.  This allows parents to know their pre-teen's friends and to monitor behavior, which is crucial in keeping pre-teens out of trouble.  When misbehavior does occur, parents who have involved their children in setting family rules and consequences can expect less flack from their children as they calmly enforce the rules.  Parents who, together with their children, set firm boundaries and high expectations may find that their children's abilities to live up to those expectations grow.

·         Encouraging independent thought and expression.  In this way, pre-teens can develop a healthy sense of self and an enhanced ability to resist peer pressure.  

When Parents Don't Approve

You may not be comfortable about your son or daughter's choice of friends or peer group.  This may be because of their image, negative attitudes, or serious behaviors (such as alcohol use, drug use, truancy, violence, sexual behaviors).

Here are some suggestions:

·         Get to know the friends of your pre-teen.  Learn their names, invite them into your home so you can talk and listen to them, and introduce yourself to their parents.

·         Do not attack your child's friends.  Remember that criticizing your pre-teen's choice of friends is like a personal attack.

·         Help your pre-teen understand the difference between image (expressions of youth culture) and identity (who he or she is).

·         Keep the lines of communication open and find out why these friends are important to your pre-teenager.

·         Check whether your concerns about their friends are real and important.

·         If you believe your concerns are serious, talk to your pre-teenager about behavior and choices -- not the friends.

·         Encourage your pre-teen's independence by supporting decision-making based on principles and not other people.

·         Let your pre-teen know of your concerns and feelings.

·         Encourage reflective thinking by helping your pre-teen think about his or her actions in advance and discussing immediate and long-term consequences of risky behavior.

·         Remember that we all learn valuable lessons from mistakes.

No matter what kind of peer influence your pre-teen faces, he or she must learn how to balance the value of going along with the crowd (connection) against the importance of making principle-based decisions (independence)

And you must ensure that your pre-teen knows that he or she is loved and valued as an individual at home.

Children's Peer Relationships.

Children's friendships have inevitable ups and downs. Yet the feelings of satisfaction and security that most children derive from interacting with peers outweigh periodic problems. For a number of children, however, peer relations are persistently problematic. Some children are actively rejected by peers. Others are simply ignored, or neglected. It even appears that some popular children have many friends but nevertheless feel alone and unhappy.


Children who are unable to form close or satisfying relationships with peers should be of concern to parents and teachers alike. For one thing, these children miss out on opportunities to learn social skills that will be important throughout their lives. Especially critical are the skills needed to initiate and maintain social relationships and to resolve social conflicts, including communication, compromise, and tact.  Children who lack ongoing peer involvements also may miss opportunities to build a sense of social self-confidence.

These children may develop little faith in their own abilities to achieve interpersonal goals and, thus, are easily overwhelmed by the normal ups and downs of social interaction. Implications for the children's future social and professional adjustments are obvious.

Finally, children without satisfying friendships may suffer from painful feelings of isolation. School may be an unpleasant place for the children. They may ultimately become truant or drop out altogether. Or, in their search for a sense of group belonging, the children may become vulnerable to the influence of delinquent or drug-abusing peers


As adults become aware of children with significant peer relationship problems, their concern should focus on why such problems are occurring. Fortunately, recent research has expanded insight into the following factors that contribute to children's peer relationship problems.

Social Behavior

Some children behave in an aggressive or disruptive manner and, hence, are rejected by peers. Other children withdraw from peer interactions and, in this way, limit their ability to gain acceptance and friendship. Each type of ineffective social behavioral pattern can stem from different root causes. One possible cause is a lack of knowledge about effective interaction strategies. Another potential cause relates to the children's emotional states.

Children who are anxious or fearful about peer relations are unlikely to behave in an effective manner. Academic problems also can contribute to ineffective social behavior. Children who cannot engage themselves with classroom work assignments often disrupt and irritate their peers.


Similarity fosters social acceptance. Conversely, children tend to encounter social rejection when they are perceived to be dissimilar from their peers. This may occur when children are of a different ethnic group or sex, are physically unattractive or handicapped, or are newcomers to their classrooms. If this is an issue your child is facing please see the teacher, counselor or school administrator for assistance.

Family Problems

Family problems can have damaging effects on children's peer relations. For example, children of divorcing parents may act out feelings of anger at school, eliciting rejection from peers in the process. Children with family problems, such as parental alcoholism, may be reluctant to bring friends home, avoiding close friendships as a result.


Even if children overcome the circumstances that originally led them to experience peer problems, a reputation as a social outcast is extremely difficult to change.


Children require help from adults if they are to overcome serious peer relationship problems. The most successful helping strategies are matched to the specific needs of the children involved.

Social Skills Training

Children whose behavior leads to social rejection often need to learn new interpersonal skills. In such cases, specific instruction on ways to make peer interactions mutually satisfying and productive can be effective in improving the children's peer relations.

Intervention for Related Problems

When peer problems co-occur with serious academic problems, children may need intensive academic intervention if they are to become accepted members of their classroom groups.  Similarly, children should be given school support for dealing with family problems, when possible, to minimize potential adverse effects on the children's peer relations.

Nonthreatening Social Experiences

Large groups can be threatening to children who lack self-confidence. Shy children may therefore benefit from opportunities to interact with peers in small groups. Parents can encourage shy children to invite classmates over one at a time for special activities. Or shy children can be encouraged to develop outside interests, like music or art that will provide a natural basis for interacting with other children. Both of these approaches can boost shy children's self-confidence and may help them start friendships in the process.

Cooperative Classroom Projects

Cooperative group projects can foster peer acceptance of children who are trying to improve their social reputations, including children who are seen as different by their classmates. Under this scheme, teachers assign interesting tasks to small work groups. The group members must work cooperatively to achieve the tasks. In so doing, they must interact with peers they would typically avoid and often discover new bases for liking them.


Beyond intervention for specific peer problems, there are several general strategies that may help all children maintain a healthy outlook on their own social lives:

1.     Give children explicit opportunities to share any peer-related concerns they might have. Show respect for the children's unique social needs. Some children may be contented with few friends. Some popular children may have such high expectations that they never feel socially successful.

2.     Create social options for children without creating pressures. Take care not to communicate the expectation that children should be liked by "all of the people all of the time."


In sum, the message regarding children's peer relationships is a clear one. Peer relationships are important contributors to the quality of both children's current lives and their future development. Children who have difficulty in relating to peers can be helped. Such intervention is most effective when it is tailored to fit the specific nature of the children's peer problems.